‘Lock your doors, load your guns,’ sheriff warns. Shortfalls gutting Eastern Kentucky.
INEZ – Martin County Sheriff John Kirk took the stage without invitation at a fiscal court meeting Monday and railed about the budgetary strains afflicting his office.
Kirk paced back and forth, complaining he had not yet received a $75,000 payment from the fiscal court that should have been delivered in January. In addition, Kirk said his office is now required to pay for its own workers’ compensation insurance, retirement, and social security benefits. Those obligations, along with unemployment insurance and fringe benefits, add an additional $99,000 to his annual expenditures.
As a result, Kirk announced Monday he has temporarily ceased all law enforcement services provided by his office. He also laid off the office bookkeeper and limited office hours to 8 a.m. through noon on weekdays.
On Kirk’s personal Facebook page, he urged residents to “lock your doors, load your guns and get a biting, barking dog.”
The issues plaguing the Martin County Sheriff’s Office and the county’s fiscal court are similarly felt by local governments throughout Eastern Kentucky, where sharp declines in coal severance taxes have forced county governments to make spending cuts and layoff workers.
Money provided to coal-producing counties in Eastern Kentucky by the state’s Local Government Economic Assistance Fund, a primary source of coal severance tax dollars for local governments, dropped from $34 million in Fiscal Year 2012 to $6.7 million in Fiscal Year 2018.
In Knott County, the fiscal court approved a partial shutdown of county government last month, and officials in Pike County have already made layoffs and proposed a major rate increase for garbage pickup.
Martin County officials also blame declining revenue and coal severance dollars for the delayed sheriff’s payment.
Meanwhile, Kirk said, his office is relying on faltering equipment as it struggles to make ends meet, and he soon expects to lose the one deputy he now employs.
“We made it because we run around with borrowed tires on our vehicles with the wires sticking out of them,” Kirk told the fiscal court. “We made it because we ran around with plugs in our tires, which is illegal to plug an emergency vehicle tire. But if you have no money, you make tough decisions, don’t you?”
County officials said they hope to pay the sheriff’s office the $75,000 pledged, but could not say when that payment would be delivered.
Victor Slone, the sole remaining member of last year’s fiscal court and the magistrate who bore the majority of Kirk’s criticism, said county officials have continued to pledge $140,000 or more to the sheriff’s office each year, even as the county’s own revenue has declined by about half in the past eight years.
Kirk, at one point during his speech, pointed to Slone and said “that man right there is part of the problem.”
The fiscal court this week approved a new sheriff’s budget, which included the promise of a $140,000 subsidy from the fiscal court.
“I am very, very disappointed in what we have had to face as a court,” said Martin County Judge-Executive Bill Davis. “Personally, I think there are a lot of better days ahead. It can’t get much worse.”
Kirk said he is concerned that residents will not have access to quick law enforcement response without his office. The responsibility now falls solely to Kentucky State Police, which sometimes has just one officer patrolling multiple counties in this mountainous corner of Eastern Kentucky, Kirk said.
William Petry, the public information officer for KSP Post 9, which covers Floyd, Johnson, Magoffin, Martin and Pike counties, said it puts a strain on state troopers if they can’t rely on help from local law enforcement.
Still, Petry said, “We’re going to respond as we always have.”
By Will Wright